In veto letter, Baker objects to a lot in climate change bill
Key senator accuses governor of procrastinating
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Thursday “reluctantly” vetoed a sweeping climate change bill sent to him by the Legislature, saying there were a number of provisions in the legislation “to which I cannot agree.”
The governor didn’t go into great detail about his objections, but in a letter to the Legislature he said the bill as written would harm efforts to increase housing, hurt the economy, fail to provide the necessary funding to help environmental justice communities, and ignore the need for climate resiliency.
Baker also questioned the bill’s requirement that emission goals be set every five rather than every 10 years and its call for separate emission goals in six industry sectors. He also criticized the way clean energy would be procured under the legislation and said certain provisions could hinder the regional transportation climate initiative.
Environmental groups panned the governor for his veto and urged the House and Senate to follow the lead of Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, who on Wednesday said their two branches intend to pass the same bill quickly and return it to the governor. Whether that will be possible is unclear, as lobbyists representing a variety of interests are likely to push for changes.
“While we are in agreement on our climate goals, we differ on how those goals should be achieved,” Baker said in his letter. “Critically, the legislation relies on certain out-of-date policies to reduce emissions and does not use exhaustive scientific data and analysis complied by the administration over the course of two years.”
Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the lead Senate negotiator on the bill, issued a tough, lengthy statement criticizing Baker for not signing the legislation and for failing to raise his concerns earlier in the legislative process.
The Legislature passed the bill on January 4, giving Baker what he said was just 35 hours to digest it and suggest amendments before the legislative session ended. With a new Legislature installed now, Baker’s only choices with the bill were to sign it into law or veto it in its entirety. Baker said he would have preferred to suggest amendments to the Legislature’s bill, but had no choice so he “reluctantly” vetoed it.
“Charlie Baker is not the first politician in the world to have responded to climate change by procrastinating.,” Barrett said in his statement. “I’m deeply disappointed in him and his decision, but we should look at the positive side. Dozens of legislators and thousands of citizens have been energized by the battle to get this bill into law. We’re more motivated than ever. And we’re getting right back to work.”
Barrett also said Baker’s claim that he didn’t have enough time to review the bill was false. Barrett said the Senate passed its bill in January 2020 and the House in July. He said he reached out numerous times to the administration in 2020 to solicit feedback and explore areas of concern.
“The near-total absence of critical feedback from the administration for the entirety of 2020 makes me think the kerfuffle of the past two weeks is really about politics, not policy,” Barrett said. “This is pushback, plain and simple and with a hint of panic, against the Legislature’s determination to see this governor, as well as future governors, act more boldly against climate change.”
Barrett said to him it appeared the governor was worried about requirements to reduce emissions that he would be responsible for on his watch as the state strives toward the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Barrett said the veto was Baker’s way of shooting down requirements for action in the near term.
Here are Baker’s chief concerns:
Economy – Baker criticized the Legislature’s 2030 goal of a 50 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels, five points higher than the goal set by the governor in his climate roadmap. Baker said those 5 percentage points would cost Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion and yield little bang for the buck.
Housing – The governor said he had heard complaints from business and union officials about how the net zero stretch energy building code proposed in the bill would deter the production of housing. Baker said he supports the development of such a code, but he said it should not “impact the production of affordable housing stock.”
Transportation climate initiative – Baker was vague, but said certain provisions in the bill would hurt the transportation climate initiative, which seeks to place a price on the carbon contained in vehicle fuels.
Resiliency – Baker said he pushed legislation calling for $130 million to fund climate resilience efforts in local communities. He said no money was included in the Legislature’s bill for climate resiliency.
Environmental justice – Suggesting the bill’s provisions on environmental justice were “empty promises,” Baker said “this bill does not have funding or language to address the ongoing impacts of climate change faced by these communities.”
Clean power – Baker said the bill contains provisions that would hinder regional efforts to procure and distribute clean energy. His comments seemed to suggest moving away from state’s past use of direct procurements of offshore wind and hydroelectricity power. “My administration believes that rather than choosing clean energy winners and losers, we should instead let resources compete in a manner that delivers the most benefit at the least cost to Massachusetts ratepayers. To that end, in October 2020 the Commonwealth joined other New England states in calling for a multi-state effort to pivot our regional electricity system planning and market structure to ensure the region is able to achieve our shared climate goals,” Baker said in his statement.Most environmental advocates said they were disappointed in the governor, but Bradley Campbell, the president of the Conservation Law Foundation, had harsh words.
“On Earth Day, we cheered as Governor Baker declared net-zero emissions by 2050 an enforceable order under the state’s landmark climate law,” Campbell said in a statement. “With the stroke of his veto pen, the governor has mocked this commitment he trumpeted just nine months ago. This irresponsible veto – admittedly at the behest of special interest lobbyists – deprives the Commonwealth’s families and businesses of the tools they need to cut emissions in a just and economically beneficial way. The governor has drastically set us back in reaching our climate goals.”